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Conclusions and outlook

Degree modifiers, as we stated in the introduction, form a very productive class of adverbs. While there are several sources speakers can tap from, the current paper focused on expressions of high quantity in present-day Dutch and how these expressions develop into degree modifiers. Four of them were singled out for closer examination, each of which had its own specific features: massa’s as a plural noun, duizend as a cardinal numeral, een partij as a singular noun phrase, and tig originally as a numeral suffix (cognate with English -ty as in sixty). Despite the different nature of the source lexical items, the study shows that they all function as hyperbolic quantifiers in quantifying constructions, denoting an indefinite amount, but one that is exceptionally large in the given context. The study further showed that degree modifying uses are attested as well for each of these items, as well as for several other quantifiers (cf. examples 52-54, and the example of nul ‘zero’ as a downtoner in note 6). We have argued that degree modifier uses may have come about through processes of reanalysis in (bridging) contexts in which the quantifier that precedes a full noun phrase no longer highlights the amount of the head noun, but the degree of the quality expressed by the adjective modifying the head noun. In other words, scope decreases from the full noun phrase to the adjective (cf. the meso-constructions in Figure 1). Adopting a constructional approach to the changes observed, we have argued that the use as a degree modifier arose in specific constructs (reflected by high token frequency), which lead to the emergence of a partially schematic micro-construction. As these micro-constructions become increasingly entrenched, new constructs (collocations) come to be sanctioned by the micro-construction, but we also hypothesized that it likewise resulted in the formation of similar micro-constructions, in which the degree modifier derives from a quantifier. As intensifiers, all four constructions discussed in this paper acquire a more procedural function, which makes them instances of grammatical constructionaliza- tion (Trousdale 2012). We propose to consider the emergence of non-ambiguous degree modifier uses, such as their use in combination with predicative adjectives in the positive degree, as unequivocal evidence of the creation of a new node in the constructional network.

It is interesting to note that recruitment of quantifiers as degree modifiers is not restricted to Dutch. For instance, a degree modifier construction corresponding to massa’s is found in Swedish (example 90), the use of ‘thousand’ as a degree modifier is found in both Swedish and German (examples 91 and 92),[1] and German zig can be found in constructions similar to Dutch tig (example 93).

(90) Resan hem var massor trevlig.

‘The journey home was really nice.’ []

(91) jag hoppas att hon har tusen kul darnere.

‘I hope she has it really cool down there - > I hope she’s having a great time down there.’


(92) Und das kuscheln im Auto war tausend schon.

‘And snuggling up in the car was really nice.’ []

(93) Die Hotline hat leider nie etwas bewirkt obwohl ich zig oft angerufen habe. ‘Unfortunately, the hotline never achieved anything, although I called them really often.’



The productivity of this kind of degree modifier construction at both micro- and meso-level, in several languages, calls for empirical investigations across larger data sets. It would also be interesting to see whether any of the degree modifiers we discussed will eventually spread to the entire language community, or whether they will be substituted for by new means to express a very high degree.

  • [1] Note also that the degree modifying use of ‘thousand’ is not restricted to Germanic languages. Modern Greek, for instance, features a prefix xilio- with intensifying function, e.g. inxilioforemenos (lit. thousand worn) ‘much worn’ (Gavriilidou 2013).
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